Friday, October 30, 2009

Chasing The Dragon

I'm not sure what sparked it, but I recently had a vivid memory of first being introduced to the internet, and it is a good a place as any to inaugurate this space. For me, up until the internet, computers were basically a word processor and I had used them (and typewriters) since childhood. My first computers were various Tandy Radioshack models. I wrote assignments and stories on them, wrote simple programs in Basic, and played text-based adventure games which were loaded from cassettes.

In 1995, my university offered students free access to the internet, though they hadn’t sprung for any kind of GUI. To tell you the truth, though I have a rich image of the desk I sat at, the music I listened to, the art on my walls, even my very ugly ashtray, I cannot for the life of me remember what that screen looked like, or how I “navigated”.

What I do remember is suddenly having easy access to fascinating essays and radical thought. What sticks out the most, is Arthur Kroker’s Ctheory (which incidentally, is still a going concern on ye old interwebs - . My mind was flooded with semiotics, deconstructionism, futurism, political dissent and inscrutable French thinkers. When I remember it, I think of the way people talk about first taking acid. My mind felt blown, the world felt opened wide, and I felt like anything was possible.

To keep with the drug analogy, they say the first high is the best, after that you’re just chasing the dragon. Fast forward to 2009, and most of the time I spend on the internet is idle amusement, though maybe that is changing, or rather, maybe I am changing that.

My other memory from those early giddy moments of the internet was my sudden shocking realisation that it was an interactive experience. I had found a message board on paganism and posted a question—again, this was truly novel to me.

Very shortly afterward my screen notified me that I had a response and my technopeasant mind just kind of gaped. There was a brief, innocent response to my question, that apparently originated about 8 blocks from where I sat.

My reaction is difficult, even for me to understand now that email, IM, social networks, and comment forums are ubiquitous in day to day life(let’s face it, many of us are more knowledgable and skilled in this illusory environment than we would be in our back yards). I was horrified, I felt exposed and vulnerable and I felt like my home had been invaded. I just hadn’t realized that by participating in the internet I was no longer in my private interior life.

It is difficult to overstate the panicky reaction I had. My pulse was pounding and my mind felt clouded with fear and I did the only thing I could think of—I turned off my computer and unplugged it. I was the caveman wailing the batshit out of something that had startled me.

It is awe inspiring and somewhat grotesque that a technology so new and so alien, in just a few short years has become so enmeshed in all activities and so essentialized in day to day living. I’ve only just recently begun to think about the activities it reshapes and those it has displaced altogether.

But, I am no longer a technopeasant; I probably spend more time at a computer than anything else other than sleeping, and some days that is debatable. And now I am blogging.

Blog. It’s a strange word, vulgar sounding. It fits with navigating, as it is short for web log. Ships navigate and their captains keep logs. Does my bandwidth constitute a pitched sea?

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